Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Learning the blues and keeping my head on straight.

so... ya, long time no blog eh.
Spring '12: got the HS band enrollment up to 21. Darn freakin' proud of it too. Thing is these kids have such a tradition of mediocrity it astounded me (still does). We have almost no success as a school in any athletics or activities. The school prides themselves on academics, which is probably a great thing. I left that spring hopeful. I felt like, although it would take a while, i was set up for something great.

Then this 2012-2013 year happened. I started out HS band with 27 kiddos, MS Band with 46, and my full 5th and 6th bands (elementary band is required here, straight up no lies. they have no option and haven't for a decade or more so almost no one complains). Then they changed my schedule. I ended up teaching 5th and 6th grade together in one 30 minute class. 59 beginners (ok the 6th graders had a year under their belts) in a 26'x40' class plus instruments. If the 13 drummers weren't going to kill me the rest would. It was disastrous. I know this isn't really standardized in music buy our AYP ground to a halt like a reed hitting my off-white cinder block walls. Seriously, we got no where. I eventually (after christmas break) convinced the classroom teachers to take the kids and have 5th grade on Mondays and Wednesdays and 6th grade on Tues/Thurs. I figured a twice-a-week effective class is better than a 4x-weekly chaos. I was right, but the damage had been done. See, in May 2012 my 5th graders completed Standard of Excellence Book 1 with time to spare. They could all play you know, like 1-year experienced students. By May 2013 the class, as a whole, was maybe 1/3 of the way through the book. 
The scheduling fiasco spread elsewhere. They split my MS band into a 7th and 8th grade band because "46 students is too many in one section" (uuuuhhhh... but the elementary... whatever mate). It wasn't as brutal as the elementary switch though. My MSers are the core of my pep band and the 7th graders end up flying on the coat tails of the 8th graders to get through the football season, not having them together except on friday nights made a lot of 7th graders get that whole deer-in-the-headlights "ohhhhh, this is how it's supposed to sound" look for the first few weeks. They eventually caught on. 
The HS did well though. I took 6 kids to a big college-hosted honor band and had a smattering of others also. My student leadership occasionally requested more responsibilities and were generally awesome. In late April things got weird. Several of my core leaders, both elected and not, began to show up late and put in less effort. Our district music competition (the biggest deal in our year) got snowed out in late April. During our spring elections at the end of the month for next years officers a lot of my strong leaders didn't accept nominations and I started to get scared. Next thing I know I get preregistration numbers in for the fall and I wanted to cry. 
Typically, in my few years here, my 8th grade to 9th grade retention has been 85-90%. I lost one senior (early and sadly do to family drama, long story) and had 19 8th graders so i figured 26-1=25 plus say 15 incoming freshman = 40 kids. A 40 kid band in a school of 70 student ain't bad at all! Well preregistration was at 21. An actual loss. I was terrified. The school board and admins made it clear they wanted to see the program grow when I started and they've been nothing but supportive thus far. I was afraid of their judgments I guess. 
I quickly compiled my lists and tracked down the not-enrolled. 
      1 had  a legitimate unavoidable schedule problem, great leader, good player, a loss
      9 had "class conflicts" that were avoidable, but even after explaining how to still take everything they wanted, refused to be in band
      2 had "class conflicts" and after going through the schedule were able to re-enroll
      2 dropped band for a second study hall or TA spot
      2 more (students B and C)... 
            Student A had a fake conflict (avoidable). Student B, who is very much romantically involved with A, won't be in band without her. Student C is best friends with B and... Thing is all 3 are multiple honor band participants, all 3 are very popular and influential around school and, with last names like theirs, even around town. I was really hoping A or C would be band president. C was already working on this next fall's all-state material.

My wife tried to keep me calm. It hurt though. Those close to me kept saying not to take it personal, but how else should I take it. My HS group had already planned a marching show for the fall, we already had experienced so much forward momentum. I expected the momentum to slow, but sliding backwards hurt. More than the numbers it hurt to lose 7 of the 9 students who attended honor bands and have 3 of my 5 band officers quit. Brutal, man. Brutal.

My new leaders are mostly young. But very involved (3 sport athletes, etc) and have already shown they can't dedicate the same level of dedication. My new band president is an on-again off-again behavioral problem...

My new MS group for the fall is only 21 students in both 7th and 8th grades. I only brought up 5 new 7th graders. Who can blame them, they had a horrible 6th grade band experience. I didn't get to see them in the 4th quarter at all and before that the schedule was a bust.

A job opened up, ideal location and size, I applied. No interview or anything. Fail.

My goal for this next year is to relax and have fun. Maybe I pushed to hard, maybe my very-goal oriented strategies from last year drove away the kids who wanted more fun, less heavy work. My relax and have fun goal is as much a curricular theme as a coping skill. I've got to relax and not take these bumps as personally. 

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